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Val Kilmer: What the Hell Happened?

August 17, 2012

Has there ever been a bigger waste of talent than Val Kilmer? The guy can do it all—comedy (he made a sidesplitting debut in the too-little-seen Top Secret!), action (he flew high as Iceman in Top Gun), crime dramas (he burned up the screen in Heat), Westerns (he should’ve gotten an Oscar nod as sickly Doc Holliday in Tombstone), musical biopics (he deservedly got a Best Actor nomination for his uncanny portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors). Yet soon after playing Bruce Wayne and his superhero alter ego in Joel Schumacher’s first Dark Knight pic in 1995, Kilmer went from Batman Forever to Fat Man Bore-ever.

Now he’s officially become a joke, sporting long stringy hair and a cheesy pornstache as a Texas bank robber in the direct-to-DVD fiasco Breathless. (Not to be confused with Jean-Luc Godard’s original or Richard Gere’s laughable remake.) Kilmer gets killed off in the first half-hour, after his greedy wife (Gina Gershon) accidentally shoots him in the head, and much of the rest of the film deals with her attempts to dispose of his bloated body. Cowriter-director Jesse Baget is apparently shooting for a Coen Brothers-style dark farce, but he ends up with a brain-dead variation on Gershon’s far-superior Lone Star State crime story, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe.

Kilmer and Gershon aren’t the only gifted performers squandered: SVU‘s Kelli Giddish (as an equally witless partner-in-crime) and Ray Liotta (as a good ol’ boy lawman) also fritter away their—and our—time. So when and why did it all start to go wrong for Kilmer? I blame Marlon Brando. After he costarred with the former Don Corleone in the ill-fated 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Kilmer seemed infected by Brando’s spirit, packing on the pounds, taking himself way too seriously (he flirted with a run for governor of New Mexico!) and developing a reputation for being difficult. “There are two things I will never do in my life,” Moreau director John Frankenheimer said. “I will never climb Mount Everest, and I will never work with Val Kilmer again. There isn’t enough money in the world.”

Never the Twain: Kilmer as Samuel ClemensApparently, Frankenheimer wasn’t the only A-list filmmaker to feel this way. Aside from reteaming with The Doors‘ Oliver Stone as Colin Farrell’s father in the not-so-great biopic Alexander and Top Gun’s Tony Scott on the forgettable Deja Vu, Kilmer’s spent the last decade doing straight-to-video schlock and self-parodying cameos (villain Dieter Von Cunth in the bomb MacGruber). Now he’s found the perfect collaborator—himself—writing, directing and starring as Mark Twain in a one-man show which he may turn into a film. One can only hope that, to paraphrase Samuel Clemens, the reports of Kilmer’s career death have been greatly exaggerated and he’s still got at least one good movie left in him. After all, as he proved so many years ago, the guy can be a Real Genius.

What’s your favorite Val Kilmer flick? Any fans of Willow, Wonderland, The Salton Sea or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang out there?

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11 Comments
  1. Oh, Willow, for sure. I also remember liking The Saint when I was younger, but it’s probably due for a rewatch.

    • bruceafretts permalink

      Yeah, you might want to give The Saint another look. It’s pretty hellish, at least compared to the original Roger Moore TV series.

  2. Isn’t the Mark Twain one-man-show genre kind of played out by now? It was mocked on “Cheers” like 30 years ago (Woody’s foray into community theater).

    • bruceafretts permalink

      Yes, but that didn’t stop Hal Holbrook…

      • To be fair, Hal basically invented the genre. (And I just learned that Hal Holbrook is still alive, which probably means he will be gone by the end of the month.)

      • bruceafretts permalink

        Yes, Hal’s still doing good work, like his recurring role as Katey Sagal’s Alzheimer’s addled-dad on Sons of Anarchy, and he got an Oscar nomination a few years ago for Into the Wild. And he’s in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln!

  3. Great post! Every time I see Val Kilmer in something, I ask myself the same question. Totally agree about the Brando thing, but he never was the game changer Brando was so people are less likely to put up with his antics. I think he’s just plain insane and he used to be good-looking enough to distract audiences from that. Great post!

  4. justme permalink

    Loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang!

    • bruceafretts permalink

      I need to see that one…even though Robert Downey Jr. is in it…

  5. Sucked Kilmers talent shower sure does down the toilet. And enough about Cruise, how’s your sex life?

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